All is Vanity

 

 

Def Leppard‘s Retro Active album cover, which Hugh Syme co-designed with Nels Israelson, shows a lady sitting at a dressing table, looking in a mirror. From another perspective, it takes the form of a skull (a type of vanitas art), the woman’s head forming the left eye socket, and her reflected head in the mirror forming the right eye socket. The mirror itself forms the shape of the skull and the accessories on the dressing table form the nose, nostrils and teeth.

 
 

It was inspired by Charles Allan Gilbert‘s most famous work, All Is Vanity (1892).

 
 

 The drawing employs a double image (or visual pun) in which the scene of a woman admiring herself in a mirror, when viewed from a distance, appears to be a human skull. The title is also a pun, as this type of dressing-table is also known as a vanity.The Vulgate (Latin translation of the Bible) renders the verse as Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas.The verse is translated as Vanity of vanities; all is vanity by the King James Version of the Bible.

Charles Allen Gilbert created his famous All is Vanity illustration in 1892 at a mere 18 years old. The painting remained unsold for nearly a decade until Gilbert finally sold the original to LIFE Publishing Co., a then tiny cartoon tabloid sold in railroad stations for a nickel. Vanity latered appeared in LIFE in 1902 and was an instant success. The illustration was soon mass produced and sold to an enthusiastic American public.

 
 

Christian Dior’s Poison ad campaign

Advertisements

Entropic Universes

Hugh Syme is a Canadian Juno Award-winning graphic artist (5 wins and 18 nominations) who is best known for his artwork and cover concepts for rock and metal bands.

The most remarkable quality of his art designs are the themes he links into the album concepts: oneiric or surreal landscapes; typefaces integrated into the background of the cover art; Kafkaesque events in which absurdity is accepted with resignation or even celebrated. His artwork can be seen as a collection of entropic universes that seems to keep leading to a bigger disarray or randomness of a closed system. The standstill movement of the scenes is what causes that impression of systematic chaos. In fact, the duality of that phrase is a fitting description of the word Entropy  (from Greek ἐντροπία, evolution, transformation). So, it is precisely a measure of the number of specific ways in which a system may be arranged, often taken to be a measure of disorder. In the domain of sociology, entropy is used as a metaphor for chaos, disorder or dissipation of energy.

 
 

(1983)

Note: The album is named after Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

 
 

(1985)

 
 

(1988)

 
 

(1990)

 
 

(1993)

 
 

(1993)

 
 

Youthanasia (1994)

 
 

(1997)

 
 

(1997)

 
 

(1997)

 
 

Arena, The Visitor (1998)

 
 

(2005)

 
 

(2006)

 
 

(2007)

 
 

(2011)

Rush to Exit… Stage Left

Hugh Syme is notably responsible for all of Rush’s album cover art since 1975’s Caress of Steel. He is also a musician and has appeared in some Rush songs as a keyboard player and he has contributed as a musician with Ian Thomas Band and Tiles.

 
 

(1975)

 
 

The album cover for Caress of Steel was intended to be printed in a silver colour to give it a “steel” appearance. A printing error resulted in giving the album cover a copper colour. The error was not corrected on subsequent printings of the album.

 
 

(1976)

 
 

The Starman emblem (also known as the ‘Man in the Star’ logo) was adopted by Rush fans as a logo since its first appearance on the back cover of 2112. Peart described the Starman in an interview with Creem magazine:

“All (the naked man) means is the abstract man against the masses. The red star symbolizes any collectivist mentality.”

In 1983 Hugh Syme told Jeffrey Morgan that he never imagined the band would use the Starman as their main logo.

 
 

(1976)

 
 

The title of this album alludes to William Shakespeare‘s play As You Like It.

 
 

(1978)

 
 

Permanent Waves (1980)

 
 

The cover art sparked some controversy because of the appearance of the “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline on the newspaper. Because of pressure from the Chicago Tribune, cover designer Hugh Syme changed the text to “Dewei Defeats Truman”. The billboards in the distance were changed from Coca-Cola (who objected to the use of their logo) to include each band member’s name in similar type style.

The background scene comes from a photo, taken by Flip Schulke, of the Galveston Seawall in Texas during Hurricane Carla on September 11, 1961. The woman pictured in the foreground is model Paula Turnbull. The waving man in the background is Hugh Syme.

 
 

(1981)

 
 

The title is from the signature catchphrase “Exit, stage left!” of the Hanna-Barbera pink mountain lion cartoon character Snagglepuss (coincidentally, Time Warner, former owners of Rush’s later label Atlantic Records, owns the H-B properties today). The term “stage left” is a stage direction used in blocking to identify the left side of a theater from the point of view of the performer, as opposed to the point of view of the audience.

An item from each of Rush’s previous eight studio album covers can be seen on the front and back cover of this live album, though each has been modified in some way. The owl from Fly by Night flies above Apollo, the man in the suit from Hemispheres, who stands next to the woman from Permanent Waves. The puppet king from A Farewell to Kings sits atop a box stenciled with the “Rush” logo from Rush. Next to him is a painting of the Caress of Steel album cover, held by one of the movers from Moving Pictures, with another mover standing behind. Next to this is Dionysus, the nude man from Hemispheres. Behind this scene, the starman from 2112 hangs in the background, next to an “EXIT” sign. This entire foreground scene, shot in Toronto’s then-abandoned Winter Garden Theatre, is on the left side of the stage (from the point of view of the artist), thus “Exit…Stage Left”.

 
 

(1982)

 
 

(1984)

 
 

(1985)

 
 

(1987)

 
 

(1989)

 
 

(1991)

 
 

“…The essence of these songs is: if there’s a chance, you might as well take it. So what if some parts of life are a crap shoot? Get out there and shoot the crap. A random universe doesn’t have to be futile; we can change the odds, load the dice, and roll again…. For anyone who hasn’t seen Groucho Marx’s game show You Bet Your Life, I mean that no one but Groucho knows the secret word, and one guess is as good as another… Anything can happen. That is called fate.

Neil Peart

 
 

Counterparts (1993)

 
 

(1996)

 
 

Retrospective I (1997)

 
 

Retrospective II (1997)

 
 

(1998)

 
 

Vapor Trails (2002)

 
 

(2003)

 
 

(2004)

 
 

The album features eight covers of songs that were influential for the band members during the 1960s.

 
 

(2006)

 
 

(2007)

 
 

According to drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, inspiration for the title of the album was conceived after considerable research from several sources; the 2000-year-old Buddhist game called  Leela, the Game of Self Knowledge, the related children’s game Snakes and Ladders (also known as Chutes and Ladders), and Hamlet‘s quote “slings and arrows.” This information helped convince bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson to adopt the original painting of the age old game board as the cover for the new album.

 
 

Alternative cover

 
 

(2009)

 
 

(2012)

 
 

The album’s cover depicts a clock marked with alchemical symbols instead of numbers. It displays the time as 9:12 (21:12 in 24-hour time),  in reference to the band’s 2112 album and its title suite. Other symbols are incorporated into the band name and album title.

The Aerosmith Chick

 
 

After seeing her in The Crush (Alan Shapiro, 1993), Marty Callner decided Alicia Silverstone would be perfect for a role in a music video he was directing for the band Aerosmith, called Cryin’; she was subsequently cast in two more videos, Amazing and Crazy. These were hugely successful for both the band and Silverstone, making her a household name (and also gaining her the nickname, “the Aerosmith chick”). After seeing Silverstone in the three videos, filmmaker Amy Heckerling decided to cast her inClueless

 
 

 
 

 
 

This music video features the first appearance of Alicia Silverstone in the band’s videos, as well as the band performing in the Central Congregational Church in Fall River, Massachusetts. The song flashes back and forth between the band and Alicia Silverstone, who plays a teen who has a falling out with her boyfriend (played by Stephen Dorff) after catching him cheating. She feigns an attempt to kiss him, but instead leans away annoying him. She then punches him and shoves him out of the car leaving him in the dust. She begins a phase of rebellion and individuality and gets a navel piercing, which has largely been credited as introducing navel piercing to mainstream culture. After having her purse stolen by another young man (played by then-unknown Josh Holloway of Lost), she chases him down and knocks him to the ground. The video then cuts to her standing on the edge of an overpass bridge, contemplating jumping…

 
 

 
 

 
 

This was the second appearance of Alicia Silverstone in the band’s videos. Paired with her was Jason London, star of Dazed and Confused(Richard Linklater, 1993), a film which was released in the same year as Get a Grip and which memorably made numerous references to Aerosmith. The characters are featured in the music video as two cyberspace kids who escape to a world of virtual reality together, both not realizing the other is also doing virtual reality. The head-mounted display in the video worn by Jason London was manufactured by Liquid Image Corporation. The founders of Liquid Image Corporation, David Collette and Tony Havelka, were contacted by the video production crew and asked to provide a head-mounted display system for the VR sequence.

 
 

 
 

 
 

It featured the third appearance of Alicia Silverstone in the band’s videos, as well as the career debut of Steven’s then-teenaged daughter Liv Tyler. The decision to cast Liv in the video for Crazy was based on the video’s creators having seen her in a Pantene commercial, with absolutely no knowledge her father was in the band. The video was very film-like and depicted the two as schoolgirls who skip class and run away, driving off in a blue Ford Mustang convertible. The two use their good looks to take advantage of a service station clerk, and needing money, enter an amateur pole-dancing competition. The video is noteworthy for its very risque and suggestive sexual scenes, some of which seem to suggest lesbianism in the characters.

Get a Grip and Draw the Line on a Milk Cow

Get a Grip (1993). Art direction: Michael Golob. Cover design: Hugh Syme. Photography: Edward Colver, William Hames. An animal rights group objected to the cover of a cow’s pierced udder, but it was confirmed by Aerosmith to have been computer-generated.

 
 

Alternative design cover

 
 

Get a Grip is the 11th studio album by American rock band Aerosmith. It was the band’s last studio album to be released by Geffen before they returned to Columbia Records. Get a Grip became Aerosmith’s best-selling studio album worldwide, achieving sales of over 20 million copies, and is tied with Pump for their second best-selling album in the United States, selling over 7 million copies as of 1995. This also made it their third consecutive album with US sales of at least five million. Two songs from the album won Grammy Awards for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, in 1993 and 1994. The album was voted Album of the Year by Metal Edge readers in the magazine’s 1993 Readers’ Choice Awards, while Livin’ on the Edge was voted Best Video.

Get a Grip featured guests including Don Henley (a founding member of The Eagles), who sang backup on Amazing, and Lenny Kravitz, who offered backup vocals and collaboration to Line Up.

Mark Coleman, for his Rolling Stone magazine review of Get a Grip, said he liked the title track and he compared the album’s introduction, titled Intro, to Steven Tyler and Joe Perry‘s collaboration with Run–D.M.C. on Walk This Way, but feels that most of the album lacks “adventure” and is too “somber”. In his interview he compared Livin’ on the Edge to a Bon Jovi song and feels that a problem with the album comes from the outside songwriters/collaborators.

Regarding songs that reflect on the band’s history with drug abuse such as Get a Grip and Amazing, Steven Tyler declared: “We were saying you can point it back to some of those old beliefs about the crossroads and signing up with the devil, that you can look at the drugs as that: It can be fun in the beginning but then it comes time to pay your debt, and if you’re not sharp enough to see that it’s taking you down, then it really will get you.”

 
 

Image from Rush’s Counterparts (1993) album design, also by Hugh Syme

 
 

Seeing is believe. Another computer-generated ilustration by Hugh Syme for an ad campaign, made almost fifteen years after Get a Grip was released.  

 
 

 
 

Milk Cow Blues is a blues song written and originally recorded by Kokomo Arnold. Elvis Presley, accompanied by Scotty Moore on guitar and Bill Black on bass, recorded a rockabilly version retitled Milk Cow Blues Boogie at Sun Records in November or December 1954.

Moving Pictures

Rush, Moving Pictures (1981). Artwork designed by Hugh Syme

 
 

The album cover was taken in front of the Ontario Legislative Building at Queen’s Park, Toronto. The pictures that are being moved are the starman logo featured on the reverse cover of the 2112 album, the famous Dogs Playing Poker painting by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge (a.k.a. Kash Koolidge), and a painting that appears to show a witch being burned at the stake, likely referring to the song Witch Hunt which appears on the album. The artwork is a monument to triple entendre. On the front cover there are movers who are moving pictures. On the side, people are shown crying because the pictures passing by are emotionally “moving”. Finally, the back cover has a film crew making a “moving picture” of the whole scene.

In an interview with Mike Dixon, easily recognizable as one of the movers on the Moving Pictures and Exit…Stage Left album covers, he discusses the various ‘actors’ on the Moving Pictures cover, beginning with the mover on the far left, his friend Bobby King. Bob King was on Hugh Syme‘s design team, and is credited for assisting Hugh on A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres and Archives. Dixon goes on to tell how Bob King is not only one of the movers, but is also the original Starman on 2112, as well as Dionysus on the Hemispheres cover (i.e., the naked guy). In addition, the mover holding the Starman painting is Kelly Jay, who sang for the Toronto band Crowbar (Crowbar performed with Rush at the Minkler Auditorium in 1973, an advertisement for this show is in the Different Stages linernotes collage). Dixon also confirms photographer Deborah Sammuels is the Joan of Arc character and that her relatives are the family on the right (this conflicts with information provided in the Rush biography Chemistry, which states “Hugh borrowed friends, neighbours and even his hairdresser’s parents”).